Pimples are a common skin condition caused by clogged or inflamed oil glands or an increased presence of pimple-causing bacteria on your skin. They’re a symptom of acne, and there are many different types, including blackheads, whiteheads, cysts and others. Treatments include home remedies and over-the-counter and prescription pills and gels.
Pimples are small growths on the surface of your skin. They may become inflamed or discolored. Acne typically causes pimples to develop, most commonly on your face, chest, shoulders and upper back.
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Acne is a disease. Pimples may be a symptom of acne.
Pimples typically affect teenagers (adolescents) and young adults undergoing hormonal changes. However, they can affect babies, and many adults continue to have pimples into their 20s, 30s and beyond. Some even develop pimples for the first time as adults.
Pimples are very common. Some researchers suggest that pimples affect nearly everyone at some time during their lives. They’re most common during adolescence, but adults may have them, too.
Your face (especially your nose, chin and forehead, and sometimes your cheeks or around your lips), neck, back, chest and upper arms are most likely to develop pimples. However, oil glands are all over your body. They release an oily lubricant called sebum that helps keep your skin and hair hydrated and shiny. As a result, though it isn’t common, pimples sometimes appear on your eyelids (styes), butt, ears, scalp, armpits (axilla) and external genitals (penis or labia).
Pimples don’t seriously affect your physical health, but they can affect you psychosocially (how society and social groups affect your mind) and psychologically (your self-perception and behavior). They’re sometimes associated with anxiety, depression, mood disorders and suicidal thoughts.
There are many types of pimples, and the symptoms depend on which kind you have. These include:
Sometimes, skin gets irritated by things it comes in contact with and pimples develop. Most people think of acne when they think of pimples. Oil glands (sebaceous glands) are located all over your body. Clogs or inflammation in your sebaceous glands cause pimples to form. Clogs and inflammation can occur as a result of:
Pimples aren’t contagious. You can’t spread them to another person through skin-to-skin contact.
Pimples are easy to recognize, so you don’t necessarily need a healthcare professional to diagnose them. But your healthcare provider can diagnose pimples during a skin exam.
They may ask if you’re undergoing significant stress or if you have a family history of pimples, which are risk factors. If you menstruate, your healthcare provider may ask about your menstrual cycles, as pimple breakouts are sometimes related. Sudden, severe pimple outbreaks in people 50 years of age or older can sometimes signal another underlying disease that requires medical attention.
Nonprescription medications can get rid of milder cases of pimples. Some medications include:
If your pimples don’t go away with nonprescription medications, your healthcare provider may recommend prescription medications, including antibiotics and oral hormone replacement.
Other therapies may include:
Talk to your healthcare provider before trying these — they may be irritating and make acne worse.
Several home remedies may help treat pimples.
While home remedies are safe for most people, it’s a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before trying some of the following options. You may be at risk of developing an allergic reaction.
Some home remedies include:
Popping pimples can be very tempting — and satisfying. However, it’s best if you don’t squeeze or pop your pimples. Squeezing pimples can cause several problems, including:
Pimples usually last between three and seven days. Most pimples go away on their own, but it may take some time. Deep pimples (pimples under your skin with no head that may feel hard to the touch) may take a few weeks to go away, if not longer.
It’s better to see your healthcare provider at the first sign of pimples and follow their treatment suggestions.
Healthcare providers and researchers once believed that certain foods might contribute to the development of pimples, especially skim milk, whey protein and diets high in sugar (including chocolate). However, that may not be true. The research between diet and pimples isn’t clear.
But certain vitamins promote healthy skin, which may help prevent pimples. These include:
If you have pimples, be careful managing them to avoid irritation. You can do this by:
You can also use over-the-counter acne medications like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These come in many forms. A wash is the least irritating.
Preventing pimples is difficult, if not impossible, during normal hormonal changes. But the following tips may help:
Pimples often go away in early adulthood, though some people will continue having them throughout their lives. Your healthcare provider can help you manage your pimples.
If you get a large outbreak of pimples at once or if you have pimples that get large, discolored or painful, you should see your healthcare provider.
Boils (furuncles) are pus-filled bumps that develop deep in your skin. They usually begin as discolored bumps, which quickly increase in size and fill with pus. The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus causes boils and staph infections.
The following tips can help you tell the difference between a boil and a pimple:
Cold sores are tiny blisters that appear on your lips and around your mouth. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores, and the virus is highly contagious. You can spread cold sores very easily through saliva or close contact with another person who has a cold sore outbreak — often through kissing or sharing utensils, straws, towels or lip balm.
Pimples don’t form on your lips or inside your mouth. You can’t spread pimples through saliva or close contact with another person who has pimples.
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes painful blisters on your genitals. Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) causes genital herpes, and the virus is highly contagious. You can spread genital herpes very easily through saliva, semen and vaginal secretions through sexual intercourse and other forms of skin-to-skin contact.
Pimples on your genitals usually aren’t painful. They can appear in areas of your skin that press tightly against your underwear or clothing, which causes dirt, oil and sweat to accumulate and clog your pores. You can’t spread genital pimples through sexual intercourse or other forms of skin-to-skin contact.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pimples are a common skin condition that affects most people, especially adolescents. Because it mainly affects teenagers, many people think pimples are part of the transition from childhood to adulthood and don’t see a healthcare provider about them. But despite how common they are, they can severely affect your mental health and cause permanent skin damage. If you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression due to the presence of pimples, talk to your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/04/2022.
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